Mullvad VPN has discovered that Android leaks traffic every time the device connects to a WiFi network, even if the “Block connections without VPN,” or “Always-on VPN,” features is enabled. BleepingComputer reports: The data being leaked outside VPN tunnels includes source IP addresses, DNS lookups, HTTPS traffic, and likely also NTP traffic. This behavior is built into the Android operating system and is a design choice. However, Android users likely didn’t know this until now due to the inaccurate description of the “VPN Lockdown” features in Android’s documentation. Mullvad discovered the issue during a security audit that hasn’t been published yet, issuing a warning yesterday to raise awareness on the matter and apply additional pressure on Google.
Android offers a setting under “Network & Internet” to block network connections unless you’re using a VPN. This feature is designed to prevent accidental leaks of the user’s actual IP address if the VPN connection is interrupted or drops suddenly. Unfortunately, this feature is undercut by the need to accommodate special cases like identifying captive portals (like hotel WiFi) that must be checked before the user can log in or when using split-tunnel features. This is why Android is configured to leak some data upon connecting to a new WiFi network, regardless of whether you enabled the “Block connections without VPN” setting.
Mullvad reported the issue to Google, requesting the addition of an option to disable connectivity checks. “This is a feature request for adding the option to disable connectivity checks while “Block connections without VPN” (from now on lockdown) is enabled for a VPN app,” explains Mullvad in a feature request on Google’s Issue Tracker. “This option should be added as the current VPN lockdown behavior is to leaks connectivity check traffic (see this issue for incorrect documentation) which is not expected and might impact user privacy.” In response to Mullvad’s request, a Google engineer said this is the intended functionality and that it would not be fixed for the following reasons:
– Many VPNs actually rely on the results of these connectivity checks to function,
– The checks are neither the only nor the riskiest exemptions from VPN connections,
– The privacy impact is minimal, if not insignificant, because the leaked information is already available from the L2 connection.
Mullvad countered these points and the case remains open.